Tales of Vesperia has always been a bit of an outlier when it comes to the Tales series of JRPGs. Widely considered one of the best entries in the franchise, Vesperia was also curiously released only on Xbox 360 – similarly to games like Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, and The Last Remnant – when it first came out in 2008. Japanese audiences ended up receiving an updated version of the game for PlayStation 3 in 2009, complete with newly voiced scenes and additional playable characters. However, the port never came West, leaving many fans without a proper way to experience Bandai Namco's epic JRPG fantasy.
With the launch of Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition, series fans are finally getting a new chance to experience the game, just over ten years since the original release. In addition to offering enhanced visuals, as well as all the content included in the Japanese-only version of the game, Definitive Edition also marks the first time Vesperia has been made available on a Nintendo platform.
With its interesting world, rewarding combat, and fantastic pacing, Definitive Edition shows that Tales of Vesperia still holds up, even after all these years. Its writing hasn't aged quite as well, however, nor has its hit-or-miss voice acting and uneven difficulty. Still, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition kicks off the new year right for Switch owners and fans of classic JRPGs.
Tales of Vesperia takes place in a world dependent upon an energy source known as blastia. Powering everything from water fountains to street lamps, blastia also serves a far more critical purpose: protecting humans from monsters roaming the land. Through the use of blastia-powered barriers, humans have generally lived in peace, so long as they stay within the boundaries of the barriers. However, blastia is considered a precious resource; as such, barriers are most often used to defend cities and towns, leaving a large amount of the world as dangerous wilderness for those looking to travel from one society to the next.
The game begins in the imperial city of Zaphias. When the blastia that powers the water supply of a poor slum is mysteriously stolen, a lower-class commoner named Yuri sets off to apprehend the thief. His investigation soon causes him to cross paths with Estellese, an upper-class noble. After Estellese reveals that she is searching for Flynn – a members of the city's Imperial Knights and Yuri's childhood friend – the two join forces, leaving the sanctity of the barrier blastia in their respective pursuits. Of course, in natural JRPG fashion, meeting Flynn and apprehending the thief is but the tip of the iceberg, and before long, Yuri and Estellese find themselves embroiled in a much larger plot, spanning cities, continents, and communities.
While not the most unique of stories, Tales of Vesperia's narrative is bolstered by its colorful world and intriguing lore. The land of Terca Lumireis is vast, with environments spanning from large cities and lively encampments to cozy villages and dreary seaside ports. Meanwhile, the world's inhabitants, from guild members that hunt dangerous beasts, to knights that maintain order within the world, and to mages that devote their lives to researching efficient consumption of blastia, provide a refreshing sense of life when it comes to exploring the world and unearthing its history.
As is customary with practically any modern JRPG, players will encounter not just NPCs during their journey, but also additional companions, each with his or her own backstory and personality. In addition to Yuri and Estellese, there's the cheery yet easily frightened Karol, the meddlesome prankster Rita, and the older, suave Raven, to name just a few. For the most part, the main cast offers an enjoyable mix of quirky characters. Yuri is the true standout, however, with a calm and collected demeanor that is made only more interesting by his murky time in the Imperial Knights and his touchy relationship with his friend Flynn. Despite the vocal performance being over ten years old, Troy Baker's portrayal as Yuri still holds up, and is a source of constant energy throughout Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition.
It's a shame, then, that the other characters just aren't quite as electric. While each of Vesperia's characters have interesting enough roles to play in the story itself, they're hard to enjoy due to wooden dialogue and stilted performances. Melodrama is almost to be expected from a JRPG, and yet Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition takes it to the extreme – and not to great effect. From Karol getting flustered and whining at the tip of a hat, to Estellese thanking and extending her condolences to every Tom, Dick, and Harry the party meets, Tales of Vesperia adds a lot of unnecessary fluff to an already meaty campaign. Often, it felt like the game was finding multiple opportunities to get across the same information, just in slightly different ways. While not a deal-breaker when it comes to enjoying Vesperia's story, the lack of precision holds it back, especially at a time when the Persona series has upped the bar for writing and acting in JRPGs.
Thankfully, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition fares better when it comes to combat. A curious mix of an action-RPG and a 2D fighter, Definitive Edition's gameplay revolves around stringing various basic combos – determined by swinging your weapon in a low, mid, or high direction, depending upon your button input – while blocking and evading enemy attacks. Minute-to-minute gameplay takes place on a 2D plane; however, by holding a trigger, players can navigate a 3D arena, useful for repositioning yourself and flanking unsuspecting enemies.
As players level up, they gain access to special moves known as Artes. From Yuri's Azure Edge, which lets him fire off a projectile, to his Destruction Field, which deals area-of-effect damage to surrounding enemies, Artes can be used at the end of combo strings to deal additional damage. However, Artes consume TP (Vesperia's form of Magic Points), making them powerful tools that must be managed effectively in order to succeed in battle.
That's just the first layer, however. There are various skills that characters can learn – ranging from backstepping to having additional magical defense in battle – which are tied to their equipped weapons. There are also battle formations that players can set prior to battle; an "Over Limit" gauge that builds up over time, letting players unleash combos with reduced cooldowns; and "Fatal Strikes," which act as devastating superpowered attacks that deal massive damage to enemies and bosses. Heck, the game has so many different aspects to its combat that it doesn't even let players switch control of characters mid-battle until later during the adventure, when they craft a specific item that unlocks the feature.
While these mechanics might seem daunting to some, Tales of Vesperia does an excellent job of introducing new elements to its combat gradually over the course of the game. In this way, there's always something interesting to look forward to; just when combat feels like it's becoming repetitive or stale, a new Arte, skill, or technique is always just over the horizon, offering new ways to experiment when fighting.
This constant feeling of progression in combat also helps make Definitive Edition one of the more better-paced JRPGs I've played in recent memory. Battles are quick, lasting 20 to 30 seconds on average, depending upon the difficulty level you're playing on (Easy, Normal, and Hard). As a result, Definitive Edition avoids the pitfalls of sluggish JRPGs held back by ultra-methodical turn-based battles. Expect to bounce around from city to city, constantly encountering new enemies and revealing new story threads. As a neat little plus, Tales of Vesperia also features recurring dialog segments in the form of simple freeze frames featuring the game's characters. Unlike the game's numerous 3D cutscenes, these vignette-like scenes are often better acted and more sharply written, injecting some welcome levity as players traverse the world of Terca Lumireis. It all amounts to a game that, despite being a bit too long for its own good, moves along at a good clip, ensuring that players will want to see its 50-plus-hour story through to its completion.
If there's one thing that holds back this pacing, however, it's Tales of Vesperia's uneven difficulty. As mentioned before, Definitive Edition features an Easy, Normal, and Hard set of difficulty levels upon starting the game. On Normal, the game can be a bit of a cakewalk through most combat encounters. However, the game will occasionally surprise you with a boss or a group of enemies that are far more lethal than what you've faced up until that. Despite how conservatively you play or how much you stock up on healing items, you're bound to be felled by the enemy – sometimes at the most inopportune of moments, to boot. While the game has plenty of save points scattered around the world, they're still scarce enough to make dying a pain, especially since it results in a Game Over screen rather than a Retry scenario. While players are free to adjust the difficulty as needed throughout the adventure, the actual difficulty levels are far less about making the game more or less challenging, and more about making enemies have more or less health. This might be fine for those dialing things down to Easy when overwhelmed by the game's occasional difficulty spikes on Normal, but for those seeking an additional challenge for most of the game, the Hard difficulty really isn't going to satiate your hunger, unfortunately.
In spite of its uneven difficulty, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is an easy recommendation for fans of JRPGs. Its world is large, combat is varied, and solid pacing makes it an easy game to digest – especially from the comfort of the Switch's handheld mode. The writing could be better, as could voice acting during most of the game's more important scenes. However, Vesperia still holds up surprisingly well, even after all these years. If you're in need of a game to tide you over until the next big modern JRPG, or if you missed out on Tales of Vesperia the first time around, Definitive Edition makes a compelling case for your hard-earned cash.